One Thing You Don’t Know About Me

I stood there, frozen. Frustrated. On the verge of tears.

And I felt like an ass.

Two weeks prior, our Vocal Basics instructor had given us all songs to learn. We first had to learn the lyrics and perform them as a monologue. Then, we were given the audio files so we could learn how to sing it. I rehearsed and rehearsed, annoying my neighbors in the process and making my dogs stare at me as if what the fuck can’t you turn that shit down?

And then Chicago weather hit. Class was canceled on the day we were to present our songs. Our instructor had even mentioned that “song day” historically had the highest absenteeism rate, as folks were afraid of singing in front of people. She challenged us to show up.

I showed up. And class was canceled.

I just didn’t know that she’d be asking us to do the songs the NEXT week because we were told that the class would be made up on a different date.

So there I stood, on a small stage in a tiny theatre. Miserable. Embarrassed. I’d forgotten the lyrics to the song (thanks, concussion of June 2013), I hadn’t rehearsed it in a week. And that wasn’t even the worst part.

It was the song. The lyrics. The subject.

The song I was given was “Shy” from a musical called Once Upon a Mattress. When I got the email with my assigned song, I popped open the doc with the lyrics in it and tears welled up in my eyes.

I’ve always been shy, I’ll confess it, I’m shy!

Can’t you guess that this confident air is a mask that I wear, ‘cause I’m shy?

And you may be sure way down deep I’m demure though some people I know may deny it – at bottom I’m quiet and pure!

I’m aware that it’s wrong to be meek as I am; my chances may pass me by.

I pretend to be strong, but as weak as I am, all I can do is try.

God knows, I try! Though I’m frightened and shy, and despite the impression I give, I confess that I’m living a lie.

Because I’m actually terribly timid and horribly shy!

This woman had just met me and she saw right through me.

Because I am actually terribly timid…and horribly shy.

When I climb onto a stage or sit down in front of my keyboard, I transform. I go somewhere else. I become the Me that I struggle with becoming and being in my everyday, most unremarkable, and exceedingly ordinary life.

And for anyone who’s ever seen me walk into some sort of mixer or cocktail hour type of event, here’s what you’ll notice:

  • I will grab a bottle of water and cling to it like a life preserver on the fucking Titanic.
  • I will scan the room to find the one person I know. The beeline I blaze to reach them would make the waste laid by napalm in Vietnam look like a papercut.
  • I will check my phone or the wall clock or someone else’s phone as often as possible, hoping that the hour I’ve allotted to this certain flavor of social hell will end and I can retreat to the solace of a small dinner with good friends or the quiet of a strange hotel room with a bed of questionable comfort.

I am shy. And it feels terribly shitty to tell you that.

If you want to talk Meyers-Briggs, I’m an INFP. I even had a date back in January who also identified as an introvert consistently use my “I” status as a point of making fun. Which felt super duper. Because we all know it’s impossible to be an introvert and have a public-facing persona. I’m taking improv and standup comedy classes. I’m a speaker for a living. And all of this is completely incongruent with being an introvert and actually being shy.

Bullshit.

As the lyrics of the song go, this confident air is (no bullshit) a mask that I wear because I am shy. And it’s not that I lack confidence (though some days are inarguably better than others). It’s just that it takes a whole lot of fucking energy — like 36 hours worth of Five Hour Energy when I don’t even know how you get 36 hours out of a five-hour product — to do what I do.

And I can’t say that I’ve always been shy, but since Jason died, I’ve found a lot more purpose in thinking and reflecting than being the life of the party. Some of you have even commented that the “hard and angry edge” my brand used to have has gone.

Which it has. Being introverted and embracing that part of my personality has been the most incredible gift. I find better stories. Better people. Better stories starring better people. I find humor where I used to find pain and it just pisses me off that I get all teary-eye because an instructor I barely knew gave me a song I didn’t know that somehow said she knew me and it just hit way to close to home to even be comfortable.

Which is why I was frozen. Standing there. Never having sung solo in front of anyone before, despite having just completed my 30th annual world tour (broadcast entirely from my shower and the inside of my Honda).

Because I’m shy.

It took a metric shit ton of something — what it is, I have no idea — to not lose my shit and just burst out into tears. Because I felt found out. Like someone had pulled back my curtain and instead of finding some wizard-type dude, they got a Chia Pet and a bag of half-eaten Cool Ranch Doritos.

To my instructor’s credit, she didn’t smack me down. She didn’t make me feel bad in any way. She worked with me to get as much of that song out of me as was going to happen that day. Then, she asked me to do the song as a character — a mid-40s uppercrust housewife.

Suddenly, I sang. I’m sure I didn’t sing well, but I sang. The class said that I immediately seemed more relaxed.

The minute I became a character, I was more relaxed.

That’s why it sucks to be shy. Because each day, I sit here and tell you that your YOU is the most important asset you have. It’s a YOU worth loving and leading with in everything you do and dare to dream. And here I am, saying the only way I can do what I do is to tap into an inkling of something else…

Imagine for a moment that I’m someplace different.

Be that person who is entirely confident in her worldview.

Well, that’s my ME. While she’s (horribly) shy, she finds a way to tell stories that make people feel something. And there’s something I dig about hanging in the background, watching all of you laugh and thrive. I really dig the feeling of being delightfully invisible, making badass alchemy to get you closer to your Next. Because if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to tell a story. How to take your hand and invite you to hold on until the sweet-ass end.

That sweet-ass end is where I become that next better version of myself, because you were along for the ride.

And terribly timid and shy though I may be, it doesn’t mean I can’t find a way to spoon up behind life each night the best way I know how. Reach a hand down to a naked hip and clench a bit. Lean forward and whisper, “I’m going to fuck you.” Because some things aren’t meant to be yelled from the rooftops. And sometimes life needs to know that while you might not be in full view and nestled in from behind, you’re still capable of great things.

PS: For those who know musical theatre, I know full well that the song “Shy” is performed contrary to the lyrics. However, when you’re looking at it from purely a lyrics-only standpoint with no reference — welcome to my world. Here’s Carol Burnett singing it.

 

 

38 comments
Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

Loved this, Erika. 


I was terrified to speak in front of more than five people ... for most of my life. I've always hated crowds and hated parties even more (unless I was well supplied with scotch or similar ;)) 


I finally had the courage to go to a Toastmasters meeting when I was about 42 years of age. That's when I realized public speaking is stepping into a role and I was amazed at how easily it came after I got past the shaky leg syndrome, and now I'd rather speak in front of a group of 50+ than go to any party.


Now I'm going to start some sort of graybeard introvert club … well that will be part of the focus at my new blog – we'll see how it goes.


Anyway, congrats and thanks for the post! :)

Erika Napoletano
Erika Napoletano moderator

@Craig McBreen  Thank YOU, Craig...as a fellow writer, I'm sure you can relate when I say that the page is a much less terrifying adversary than the prospect of a room full of unfamiliar folks :)

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Jen Vertanen
Jen Vertanen

I can either be the doormatiest wallflower or the life of the party; it all depends on my comfort level with the group I'm in and how I'm feeling that particular day. So yeah...I get it. 


This year is all about feeling more comfortable online so I don't continue to represent as the shrinking violet I'm actually not...once I'm comfortable, lol.

DebCarnes
DebCarnes

You made my day! Thanks for writing this.

bryansarnold
bryansarnold

This is my first time reading your stuff...This is awesome. Where have you been all my life?!

CordeliaCallsIt
CordeliaCallsIt

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I struggled with this dichotomy myself all the time. My blog self is brazen, sassy, in-your-face...and that is truly who I am. My out-with-other-human-beings self spends whole days dreading a casual social event (with people I'VE KNOWN FOR YEARS, for fuck's sake), then spends the entire social event itself so far stuck up in my own head I might as well be in Being John Malkovich. And this, also, is truly who I am. I've long ago given up on wondering why this is or how I can "get over it" and am trying instead to learn how to live with while being simultaneously kind to and challenging of myself. It means to much to know another person has this same split personality. Totally with you, sister.

JamesTaylor2
JamesTaylor2

I had a similar epiphany when I took the Myers-Briggs as an adult. The instructor told me that any personality type can act like any other, but you use so much more energy to act the role of the other, that you need to take time to be in your natural state to "recover". So as one introvert to another- take care of your natural state, so you can be even better when you need to put on the performance mask!

AskAprilJ
AskAprilJ

Nice. This is a great perspective! Thank you James!

DickCarlson
DickCarlson

Fellow INFP here.  I'm beyond shy.  I usually stay in that cocktail party shredding a napkin for 20 minutes, then pretend to see someone out in the hall.  But I've made my career presenting, teaching, and showing OTHER people how to take control of a class of people from the front of the room.  I'm known as a clown, a big-mouth, and a performer who's always got a quick comeback and a snappy line of patter.


After I escape the cocktail party you'll find me either having coffee with one or two really good friends, or  snuggled in my room eating room-service and watching tv while reading a book and surfing.


Shy.

LisaBraithwaite
LisaBraithwaite

The one thing that has always helped with my shyness is performing. I'm always more comfortable playing a character, which is why I gravitated to theater and singing from a young age. 

I'm still painfully shy now, even though I'm a speaking coach and my job is to get on stage and train people -- and I love every minute of it. Because the character I play is MYSELF. The super awesome, superstar superhero that's me when I'm at my best, most confident and most happy moments. 

But I do also get exhausted from speaking, training, networking and all those social events that force me to be the awesome me. So I take a lot of downtime and don't schedule speaking engagements back-to-back. (I've got three this month, each a week apart, and just thinking about it is exhausting!) And I don't consider that "character" to be faking it, because it's actually me, just the better, more rockin' me. Once I warm up, the rockin' me really comes out and I don't have to play the character any more.

And when I tell people I'm shy, they totally do NOT believe me.

AskAprilJ
AskAprilJ

Yup, another INFP here too...+HSP (Highly Sensitive Person). I was a pretty good restaurant hostess back in the day & great at welcoming clients in the business world. On my own in a social setting, I'm much like you too.

Thank you, beloved, for being fabulously you, especially with your human layers! And thank you also for talking about The Elephant in the room for many of us. You are still a hero in my book, perfectly imperfect and all!

richmackey
richmackey

There is nothing that I can comment that you don't already know just by being aware I read this. *hugs*

Tom Salzer
Tom Salzer

Bingo.  I am introverted...but also successfully lead.  Presentations made me cringe until I realized that I was simply delivering a performance.  The audience/recipients expected me to try to do a good job of presenting, but they didn't expect perfection.  I stopped trying to be perfect.  Yes, I rehearse my lines, but I don't memorize them anymore...because that takes the spontaneity out of the performance.  And even though that's a different "me" up there than my usual day-to-day self, it's still me...just a different part of my character, not my whole character.

Michael Martine
Michael Martine

That transformation you describe before going onstage is something I know well. I spent over a decade teaching people computers and software, but do the same thing at parties as you do. It's a performance (except when it's not, then I'm a bore). Any time I appear extroverted it's because of one of two things. One: I'm so geeked out about something I forget everything else and just don't care. Two: I'm "performing." I'm presenting my public mask. 


But I think it's a false dichotomy. Binary thinking. This "real" vs. "fake" forced on us is a lie. People are more complex than that. Enough so that someone had to invent the term "ambivert," anyway.

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DwayneAlicie
DwayneAlicie

Oh wow. This post is *right there,* Erika. Thank you for telling this story! And oh, how I needed to hear it today. 

As a shy, introverted INFP myself, I struggle with the same things. It's shocking to me that in high school I was in all the plays and was even the drum major of the high school band. Cut to me, twenty <GULP> years later, TWO nights before I'm to do a scene in a community college acting class, tossing and turning, utterly sleepless. Oh and networking events...ooooh the sweating and the shallow sighs.

But, knowing this about you and looking back at the work you have done, including your TED Talk (HELLO, world stage!) reminds me that there is still hope for me to be able to tell my story and move around in the world confidently as well. Toastmasters keeps calling my name.

Congratulations on getting out there and doing it your way, lady!

Clare Saumell
Clare Saumell

INFP! Me too!


I did a lot of theatre when I was younger, and it seemed to be common thread that introverted people found themselves on stage. Kind of fascinating.


Thanks for this post :-)

missedcongeniality
missedcongeniality

Ah! The perfectly raw, and honest Ericka that I know and love. You have captured my soul and essence here. While those who *think* they know me would call "bullshit," what they don't know is I'm the one waiting, hoping and praying that you (the one other person I know) will come into the room and throw me a lifeline. I'm the one with the social mask on, saying hello to all the acquaintances, lest I be thought rude...while the swarm of insecurities buzzes around in my brain--whining like a jet engine ready to thrust me, face down, in the middle of it all.
Thank you, my friend. Thank you, indeed.

hubbit
hubbit

This resonates so very much. I'm very similar and always have been.

RAReed
RAReed

Thank you. Erika. You just gave me a lot of hope.

Lance Zabrowski
Lance Zabrowski

Wow-your post somehow put into words some of the things that I myself harbor in those small little spaces in my head that I try not to visit very often...but it is reassuring to hear other's have the same issues. I just put on my bravest persona and slog on, and try to keep it together as best I can, hoping no one can see that inside I'm literally about ready to barf. Also, the part about somehow making sense of who you were-vs-who you are now, with both yourself and friends, is something I still struggle with everyday, and it's a state of constant change, so I never quite wrap my head around it. I always think about "getting somewhere" with my life, but I found out, I will never quite make it there, because the target, and myself, are always changing! So comforting to know that other's have some of the same experiences-thanks for sharing!